Educators can learn how to survive a virtual school shooting.
In response to the rising number of mass shootings in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security developed and released a WebVR training simulator last year called EDGE (Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment), which helped prepare first responders for the stressful moments of responding to an active shooter scene.
Now with FBI data showing that nearly 1/3 of all mass shootings since 2000 have taken place in schools, DHS is giving EDGE an upgrade to focus on educators and school employees. This time users will be put into the chaotic and realistic situation of an active shooter on school grounds. The revamp is looking to provide knowledge and experience to better protect students, assist other first responders, and also defend themselves.
“With teachers, they did not self-select into a role where they expect to have bullets flying near them,” Tamara Griffith, chief engineer for EDGE told the Associated Press, “Unfortunately, it’s becoming a reality…We can prepare people better.”
The $5.6-million program, which was built on Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, isn’t the first VR experience to focus on surviving an active shooter situation. A VR program called SurviVR by the New York-based company, Human Condition Safety, was released in 2016 and focused on instructing civilians on how to survive a mass shooting or hostage situation as well.
What makes the newly upgraded educator version of EDGE different is that in order to create a realistic VR experience specific to school shooting training, the developers studied the actual dispatch tapes and police reports of past school shootings such as Columbine, and Virginia Tech, and even met with a mother of a child killed during Sandy Hook to get her perspective of each moment of that day; making sure that the WebVR EDGE experience relayed the actual panic and confusion of a shooter situation on school grounds.
In an interview with VRScout, Steven Sato, Director of Technology of a Southern California School District and a VR/AR technology expert who specializes on the integration of immersive technology in K12 education said, “We do drills for earthquakes here in California, and schools in other parts of the U.S. do drills for school lockdown in case there is a situation happening in the neighborhood or area of a school – unfortunately what a majority of schools don’t do are drills for active shooters on school grounds.”
The WebVR training scenario allows you to play the role of teacher, shooter or a law enforcement officer to give you a full perspective of a situation, and the shooter can be an adult or a student. As you experience the scenario, you are given tips on how to build barricades and jam doors, all while learning the skills needed to survive.
“It’s necessary for all schools – I believe it’s necessary,” said Sato. “We’re in a day and age where training for active shooter scenario should be as common place as training for a school lockdown – It’s a hard subject to talk about, and it’s a hard subject to talk about with the community, but it’s absolutely necessary.”
The training center, which is located at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, allows up to 60 people at the same time, including those who can log in remotely from their homes.
The teacher version of EDGE is scheduled to be released sometime in spring.